BikeBiz catches up with Darren Hunt, group retail managing director at Cycle King & Hawk Cycles
With 23 stores, two large e-commerce and distribution warehouses and four active websites, Cycle King & Hawk Cycles is a family business at its core. Nicholas Thake founded his first business, NJ Thake Cycles, aged just 16 in 1968, where he bought, sold and repaired used bikes from his home in Harlow.
Opening his first bike shop four years later in Sawbridgeworth, the business developed into a family of more than 20 stores, adopting the name ‘The Cycle King’ in the early 1980s. Hawk Cycles bicycle factory was acquired in 1994, which in 2010 merged with Cycle King to create the online and physical retailer seen today.
“Nick and his sons are a hands-on part of the leadership team to this day, working closely together to provide the very best value and experiences for Cycle King & Hawk Cycles customers, whilst proudly retaining the title of the UK’s largest family-owned bike retailer,” says Darren Hunt, group retail managing director. “I think that family, unbeatable value and excellent service really are at the heart of the company.”
The past year has seen COVID-19 boost demand across the cycling industry, but how has it affected Cycle King & Hawk Cycles? “I would like to start by recognising the efforts of all our colleagues and their families who have been incredible throughout the entire pandemic,” says Hunt.
“It has been inspirational and incredibly humbling to watch how resilient, supportive and hard-working our colleagues and supportive their families have been, especially whilst dealing with some very challenging circumstances. They really do demonstrate what being part of a family business is all about and I am immensely proud of each colleague who is part of the Cycle King & Hawk Cycles family.”
In terms of structure, the retailer’s model is slightly different to many of its industry partners, says Hunt, but it has proved successful. “We have a three phased approach to our ranging proposition.
“We are at our core a cycle retailer with long standing partnerships with many of our suppliers across the world resulting in the ability to have a great influence on design, specification, and pricing of our selected range.
“This allows us to support a wide variety of brands and suppliers that offer fantastic value and quality at a more affordable price. In addition to this, we are also an off-price model for products that other retailers may feel are seasonally redundant or over manufactured and so on. Our ability to source these lines means we can pass this savings onto our customers whilst still offering a great width and depth of product range.
“Finally, we also source and supply products directly with suppliers like your normal bike retailer with relationships with several great brands. This model means we can offer something to everyone at all levels and for a variety of budgets.
“This model, matched with our experience within the industry and the strength of our team, meant we were able to adapt quickly enough to remain open and changed how we operated. During the whole pandemic, we only closed for the first two days to establish a plan on how we remain COVID secure and reorganise our shops, so we were safe for staff and customers; our team never wavered in supporting our customers.
“I am sure, like everyone, we had some very intense periods selling huge numbers of new bikes a week – we were fortunate that our warehouses were carrying nearly 40,000 bikes which resulted in consistent availability to serve our customers even with this new level of demand.”
Like most bike shops, Hunt says Cycle King & Hawk Cycles has seen ‘incredible’ growth across the electric range, sports hybrid, and many other areas as the shift in consumer demand changes.
“My personal view, however, is that the biggest change has been seen in the service levels or ‘customer experience’ that customers now thrive on.
“A lot of retailers have talked about the importance of world class service and how this plays a part in the future of their business – however all too often fail to really make this change within the customer journey in the most important part – the actual customer interactions.
“Customers now have more choice than ever in both where and how to shop – after COVID more and more consumers who would never have considered the online option now are much more adapted to using this channel.
“Our goal is to make our customer experience something that cannot be replicated and as such draws our customers to keep returning time and time again. All of this starts with our actively engaged team who are the key to our success and future who build that loyalty with our customers for generations.”
Over the past five years, Cycle King & Hawk Cycles has gone through some positive changes which have allowed it to focus on key areas of its development plans. “We operate with a clear and cohesive strategy which is constantly evolving as our customers’ shopping habits do,” says Hunt.
“The next step to this journey has been clear that we needed to bring all our different elements and strengths under one infrastructure. To do this, we needed to strengthen our wider team and partners.”
The retailer has recently changed its EPOS partner and its website supplier to Citrus-Lime so that it can integrate everything. “We are very excited to launch the first of our new websites bringing this new integration into action.
“This clearly makes a huge difference when balancing all our decisions and steerage across our entire group. This I know will help us to make more strategic decisions around stock, ranging and future growth and investment areas.”
Cycle King & Hawk Cycles also recently appointed PaceUp Media as its agency partner. “These are two great new partners for our future as we move forwards,” says Hunt.
“We will always stay loyal to our roots in that we value our customer loyalty built over generations. Our customers are families, young and old and they are loyal to our brand and have been for over 50 years.
“We regard ourselves as an old yet young family business in that we are keen to adapt and enjoy continuing to embrace change whilst remaining loyal to who and what we are – a local family bike shop.”